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Critically Endangered Red Wolves May Be Expecting Cubs

This handsome red wolf — named Karma — is shown exploring its habitat at the WNC Nature Center. Sadly there are very few red wolves left in the wild today.   Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Nature Center.

By Dasha Morgan

During this horrific pandemic, perhaps a little “good news” would be welcome. Sadly as some may know, the number of red wolves in the wild has dwindled to an unimaginably low number: as few as 25 animals can be found in the wild today. The WNC Nature Center here in Asheville has been a part of a breeding and management program known as the Red Wolf Species Survival Plan since the 1990s. Developed by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums, a Species Survival Plan (SSP) is a breeding and management program designed to assist in conservation and to ensure the long-term sustainability of zoo-based animal populations. In the fall of 2018 two red wolves were loaned to the Nature Center as potential breeding partners.

The female, Karma, arrived at the Nature Center from Chehaw Park in Georgia, and the Male, Garnet, came from Reflection Riding Nature Center in Tennessee.

As a breeding pair, Karma and Garnet are hoping to contribute to the future of their entire species! These two red wolves have been seen breeding, and if they were successful, the Nature Center could soon have pups. Because red wolves are so critically endangered, any offspring could potentially be reintroduced to the wild population. For that reason, the animal care team is much more hands off with this species. They won’t be doing sonograms or physical exams of Karma during this time, so they can’t confirm for sure that she is indeed pregnant or how many pups she may be carrying until they are born. If they’re successful, this will be Karma and Garnet’s first time as parents. Pups could be born by late May. Once weaned, they could venture out into their parents’ habitat in the Nature Center by August, so Nature Center members will be able to catch a view of the newly born pups.
According to Defenders of Wildlife an organization which has been working on the recovery of the red wolf since the mid-1980’s, “The red wolf is a smaller, thinner cousin of the gray wolf. It has a distinctive reddish cast for which it is named. The red wolf is the world’s most endangered canid, and the Southeast’s native wolf. Uniquely ‘All-American,’ the red wolf’s entire historical range is confined within what is now the United States.

Once roaming as far west as Texas, down into Florida, and up into the Midwest, the red wolf now persists in only a fraction of its range. It has lost more of its historical territory—99.7 percent—than any other large carnivore, including lions, tigers and snow leopards. The red wolf has faced an embattled road to recovery since its listing in the first class of the Endangered Species Act. At one point, the population grew to over 150 animals, before falling victim to political pressure, illegal management and agency inaction.”

The red wolves at the WNC Nature Center have played an important role in the Species Survival Plan program through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Through this program, the WNC Nature Center has proudly seen 13 red wolf pups born into their care. The Nature Center will be posting social media updates as they have news to share, with high hopes for the future.

Connecting Through Social Media and Other Programs

While the WNC has been closed, they have been using their social media platforms to bring the animals to families in their homes. Visit their Facebook page (www.facebook.com/WNCNatureCenter) for educational and enriching video and photos. For example, you can watch the otters get fed or go take a virtual walk with the donkeys, Eeyore and Willy, to see the bobcat, cougar and grey wolves, as well as red wolves Karma and Garnet! Undoubtedly the wild animals must think it strange that all their visitors have disappeared. What could be going on?

Starting this week, a new weekly educational video series called “Wild at Home” will be posted on the Nature Center’s Facebook page, where kids and families will learn new animal facts from Outreach Education Specialist Tori Duval.

She is employed by The Friends of the WNC Nature Center, the nonprofit that supports the Nature Center. Usually she travels throughout the region and brings hands-on programs with living animal ambassadors to school classrooms, libraries, and retirement communities – any place that may have difficulty actually coming to the Nature Center. This is offered within 50 miles of Asheville, NC. With schools being closed and gatherings being limited, Duval is now bringing her programs straight to families’ homes through social media. Even while they are closed, the WNC Nature Center and the Friends of the WNC Nature are still making sure people can engage with and learn about the plants and animals of the Southern Appalachian Mountains.

You can support the WNC Nature Center by purchasing a membership, even while they are temporarily closed. Memberships include free admission to the Nature Center for a year (sign up now, your membership will begin when the Center reopens). You also receive free or discounted admission to more than 450 zoo, aquariums, and science centers around the nation under the AZA and ASTC Passport reciprocity programs. Members receive special discounts on events, summer camp, and the Nature Center Gift Shop, all while supporting the wild animals they love.

”Outreach Education Specialist” Tori Duval often brings animal education programs to schools and libraries.  Photo courtesy of the Friends of the Nature Center.

Donations and memberships support the animals right now, as they still need daily care, enrichment, and veterinary care. The Friends of the WNC Nature Center also have other fund-raising programs to support Nature Center operations. They are currently holding their “buy a brick,” campaign, which allows someone to buy an engraved brick to honor or remember a loved one. This is then installed in the Nature Center’s pathways near Appalachian Station and Brandon’s Otter Falls, usually in late spring. Now is the time to buy your brick for 2020. Learn more about how you can help by visiting www.wildwnc.org/support.

Of course fascinating discovery programs are held at the Nature Center as well— for all ages. Just go to https://wildwnc.org/schools-home-schools for more information. Hopefully once this difficult corona virus time has passed, all these activities will begin again. Today, the Nature Center serves all 27 counties of western North Carolina. In fact, the Nature Center is one of the primary facilities in Western North Carolina offering school children opportunities to learn about and develop an understanding of their responsibility for this area’s native wildlife and habitats.

They have activities year round, geared to the younger population so they will enjoy and explore the park. There are summer camps specializing in (say) Bugs & Butterflies, Reptiles and Amphibians or Furs and Feathers or offering students Scavenger Hunts when visiting the Center geared to the child’s age. There are Behind the Scenes Tours where children are allowed to explore specific habitats like the Predator area or the Animal Kitchen.

There are evenings in the fall when you can visit the Center to listen to the haunting and eerie Wolves Howling. For the more adult crowd, there is a popular evening event called Brews & Bears. These are after-hours events, held once a month on Friday nights during the summer from 5:30-8:00PM, featuring drinks, music, food trucks, and an up- close view of an awesome bear enrichment activity with the black bears Uno and Ursa. Soon, let us all hope these events will be back on track. For now let us all just look forward to hearing good news that Karma and Garnet were successful in breeding and are brand new parents.

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